Between Christmas and New Years, no one in the Bahamas is boasting about the white sand beaches, warm tropical waters, fabulous coral reefs, luxury all inclusive resorts or challenging golf courses that you can find on the islands. Instead the country and its citizens are in the ban of ‘Junkanoo’ a unique December festival. more...
Between Christmas and New Years, no one in the Bahamas is boasting about the white sand beaches, warm tropical waters, fabulous coral reefs, luxury all inclusive resorts or challenging golf courses that you can find on the islands. Instead the country and its citizens are in the ban of ‘Junkanoo’ a unique December festival that embraces elements of Mardi Gras, the Rio Carnival and the Mako Jumbies
tradition, which I wrote about earlier. There are two main December Junkanoo parades in The Bahamas, one on December 26th and one on New Year’s Day.
As with other festivities that find their roots in Africa, the meaning of the word ‘Junkanoo’ is doubtful. It is thought that the celebrations of this festival date back to the 16th or 17th century when African slaves were given a few days off, on Christmas and New Years day, to be with their families and celebrate with music, dance, improvised costumes and other disguises.
With the abolition of slavery, the Junkanoo tradition almost came to an end as well but a group of islanders turned Junkanoo into a celebration commemorating the end of slavery. Various religious groups vowed to make the celebrations during Christmas illegal in which they temporarily succeeded in 1944. In 1948 Junkanoo became legal again as it was thought to be an excellent tourist attraction. Therefore it is remarkable that, unlike other carnivals, Junkanoo has remained relatively untouched by the commercial aspect of tourism and has maintained its unique flavor. The focus remains on the parade and its tradition, not the thousands of spectators who flock to the Bahamas’. In case you plan on going to the Bahamas’ around this time of year I advise you to book a hotel well ahead of time.
Music, Costumes and dance performances play a very important part in the Junkanoo tradition and there is a stiff competition going on between the Junkanoo groups that each consist of between 500 to 1,000 members who are after the prizes that are awarded for the best music, best costume and best overall group presentation.
Junkanoo costumes have evolved from palm leaves, newspaper and colored glass into beautiful, elaborate, hand-made costumes that are cut out from cardboard or Styrofoam and pieced together with contact cement, aluminum rods and wire. Shiny and colorful paper is carefully glued on the ‘frame” and finally the costume is elaborately decorated with beads, stones, and glitter. These designs can become very heavy, weighing often more than 200 pounds, and have been designed months in advance following strict standards in order to be eligible for a price.
The Junkanoo music is performed on drums made from sheep or goatskin stretched over wooden or metallic oil barrels, cowbells, horns, and more recently, brass instruments. The music has become popular in the United States and Japan thanks to its stirring rhythm that is hard to resist.
In the early days of the Junkanoo festivals, individual dancers made up their own dance moves along the way. In the 50’s and 60’s this changed when Richard Dean introduced a dance called ‘The Shuffle’, which became so popular that these days Junkanoo groups hire choreographers to come up with elaborate dance routines in order to win the grand prize.
Junkanoo is in generally not associated with religion but by no means lacks spirit. Junkanoo stands for serious business, passion, fierce competition and of course the abolishment of slavery. Junkanoo has grown into one of the main December parties in the Caribbean and offers spectators and participants an unforgettable experience and a greater appreciation for what the African Culture has brought to the Caribbean.